The Pittsburgh Penguins had a hot start to the 2013 NHL season, but their momentum quickly faded as the first week of the season progressed. The first five games of their 48-game schedule reveal a few positives and negatives about the team’s start.
Pittsburgh started off strong with two back-to-back road wins against Atlantic Division rivals—the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. However, they went on to lose their home opener to the Toronto Maple Leafs and lost a road game in Winnipeg against the Jets.
With their decent start, the Penguins are living up to some expectations and failing to meet others. Let’s take a look at some of the positives and negatives of the club’s first week of the season.
James Neal is one of the team's most dangerous power play players.
Thus far, the Penguins have been dominant on the special teams.
The power play was a big factor in the team decisively defeating the Flyers and Rangers in their first two games. After the first five games of the season, the Penguins are ranked ninth in the NHL in power-play percentage—converting on just over a quarter of their opportunities.
In addition, they’ve shown pretty good discipline. In five games, the Penguins have gone shorthanded 21 times. Considering some players are still getting back into the swing of NHL hockey, the Penguins have done a good job not taking too many sloppy penalties.
What’s better is their ability to kill off the penalties they take. They’ve successfully killed just over 85 percent of the penalties they’ve taken thus far.
Special teams are going to be a deciding factor in this abbreviated season. If the first week is any indication, the Penguins are in good shape.
The 2013 NHL schedule is pretty condensed. The 48-game season will be completed in just 99 days.
The Penguins seemed to have a phenomenal advantage in that they have two elite goaltenders at their disposal. When they play back-to-back games, they shouldn’t have any qualms with starting backup Tomas Vokoun and letting Marc-Andre Fleury take a break and avoid burnout.
Even so, Fleury has fallen victim to inconsistency already. He was phenomenal against the Flyers in the season opener—allowing only one goal on 28 shots.
Vokoun started the next day against the Rangers and earned the club its second win of the season. Fast forward a few days and Fleury allows five of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ shots to get past him.
Fleury bounced right back, though. In their shootout win over the Ottawa Senators, Fleury stopped 31 of their 32 shots.
Granted, part of the problem in the Toronto game was the defense in front of him. Regardless, Fleury wasn’t the consistent and reliable netminder the Penguins needed him to be in the first week of the season.
It’s no surprise that the Penguins top-six forwards are lighting the lamp on a consistent basis. Thus far, the two lines have 11 goals between them.
The tandem of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal continues to be a formidable one. Neal leads the Penguins with four goals and Malkin has assisted on each one of them.
Sidney Crosby had a strong performance in the first week, too. He scored his first goal of the season in the Penguins’ 5-2 loss to the Maple Leafs. “Sid the Kid” also exploded in the team’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets, scoring their only two goals of the game.
Teams like the San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning have gotten off to a strong start in the scoring department. While their top lines have been borderline unstoppable, few teams have top two lines as offensively potent as the Penguins.
The Penguins have some of the NHL’s most offensively talented forwards, but their defenders are lacking in offensive production.
Kris Letang is the team’s top offensive defenseman. He has a goal and four points in the first five games of the season and has been a valuable player on the power play.
Matt Niskanen is another Penguins defenseman who has an offensive mind. He’s a good passer and has a great shot from the point.
Offensive talent on the blue line gets thin after those two, though. Paul Martin had a nice offensive burst in the first few games, but don’t expect that to continue. His career high was 37 points in 80 games during his sophomore season.
The Penguins could use more scoring from the blue line. Even though they have a tremendous core of scorers, they can’t be relied on to do all the work themselves.